FEYENOORD CITY: THE MASTERPLAN THAT HAS DIVIDED A FANBASE

Embed from Getty Images

On Friday night, the Netherlands enjoyed a sweet victory against World Cup holders France in their penultimate UEFA Nations League game. The Dutch, who have missed the last two major international tournaments, have enjoyed consecutive wins in their last two competitive clashes against the two former world champions. Under Ronald Koeman, the Oranje have been revitalized and are showing the form of old that had made them such a revered footballing nation. However, on Friday night, it wasn’t only the football that had caught the eye, it was the atmosphere around De Kuip, an atmosphere that may not be replicated every week in the near future.

De Kuip is a unique football ground. With the fans so closely knit and the ground jam-packed on most matchdays, the atmosphere is enjoyable for any neutral and daunting for any visiting teams and fans. The clash between the Netherlands and France exemplified the impact the stadium can have, as the crowd were raucous throughout the game, pumping the home side and creating a frightening atmosphere for the visitors. Over the years, Feyenoord themselves have seen some great teams play their football at the stadium and that history and intrigue is what the loyal Feyenoord faithful wish to preserve for the rest of time.

For the best part of the last decade, the club have been discussing plans to make changes to De Kuip. Initially, there were whispers that a stadium that exceeded 100,000 seats would be built, but those plans were slashed when the Netherlands failed with their bid to get hosting rights for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Then, there were talks that a stadium of around 70,000 seats would be constructed, but that too was discarded. Along the way, the option of expanding and renovating the current stadium was made available – this seemed most feasible to the fans and the pockets of the club’s shareholders – but this too was vetoed against. Finally, the idea of Feyenoord City came up.

Feyenoord City would drastically change the home of the club and its surrounding area. First and most importantly, it would see the building of a new stadium that could host around 63,000 supporters – 12,000 more than the current venue. In addition to that, it would also see a significant improvement in the infrastructure around the ground, including new sporting facilities and an enhanced fan experience. According to the plan’s official website, the new stadium would replicate several elements that made the current De Kuip so iconic, including the dauntingly close proximity of the fans to the playing surface on all four sides of the stadium.

While the plans do seem progressive and moving, it has been met with lots of disapproval from the club’s fanbase. Most clubs and their fans want to see changes to benefit them, and while there have been many positive aspects surrounding Feyenoord in recent times, this new masterplan is not necessary. De Kuip has seen many historic moments. From Ernst Happel’s European Champions to Johan Cruyff’s legendary stint and most recently, the dramatic Eredivisie winners under Giovanni van Bronckhorst, the Feyenoord faithful have their rich history as a major trump card amongst several key reasons in wanting to prevent their move to a new home.

Ever since the plans for Feyenoord City escalated in 2016, the fans have peacefully protested in the stadium with banners and songs and on social media, using the hashtag #StopFeyenoordCity as well as #SaveOurStadium. For many, the stadium carries too much value and at the time it was built, it was a masterstroke. The stadium’s outward-facing staircases, free-hanging tiers on either side and use of glass, steel and concrete made it a futuristic venue in the 1930s and it defined the path Feyenoord wanted to take. Add in the fact that it is so close to the famous Van Nelle Factory – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – it shows that the ground carries great historical value to the fans.

Many fans believe that the building of a new stadium is down to the growing distance between the loyal fanbase and investors, who are more interested in fiscal results rather than the actual footballing value of the club – a growing concern that hasn’t just affected Feyenoord. Stadion op Zuid, one of the most vocal fanbases that have voiced concerns against the new plans are collective critiques of the boardroom’s greediness. They had a few sorry words to add about the whole situation: “the greediness is destroying the DNA of our club. Greediness causes more and more distance between the real fans and the board of the club. It is just sad.”

The Feyenoord board frequently publishes reports on the progress of their new plans and how the new venue creates more benefits for the loyal fanbase, but according to Stadion op Zuid, many of those statistics and facts are overstated and often, sugar-coated. One concern comes from the design of the stadium. While the Feyenoord City website states many of the elements of the current De Kuip will be replicated, there have been fears that the archetypal oval shape and overhanging stands may not be the same in the new stadium. This has caused a huge disdain about the new plan in the minds of the fans.

Secondly, the access to the new stadium will be greatly diminished. One of the main reasons why De Kuip is so popular amongst many fanbases is the supporter-friendly mobility and easy movement to and from the stadium across all forms of transport. This will be affected in the new venue. The municipality in Rotterdam is asking Feyenoord to be responsible for the mobility of the fans – a requirement that is usually the job of the municipality itself – and this will come as a cost to the club. If the fans are caught causing too much of a nuisance around the area of the new venue, it will be a cost to the Feyenoord boardroom and there will be a penalty the club has to pay.

Also, to add to the issues of accessibility, there have been talks that fans may have to ditch their cars to arrive at the new stadium. This is to avoid any traffic – which is seen as a nuisance – and to make as much space as possible for the 63,000 fans that will be in this new area. In many ways, accessibility to the new ground is a huge issue and will not be pleasing to the fans. There have already been concerns that the increased capacity will not be met due to the loyal fans unwilling to move to a new stadium, and those concerns will be increased by the limited mobility to and from the ground. If anything, this plan is doing more harm than good for the club, fans and eventually, the players.

When representatives from Stadion op Zuid mentioned the issues of poor accessibility to the venue to the club, some members of the Feyenoord board suggested public transport and were quick to brush off any suggestions that there will be mobility trouble. One representative had this to say: “We have had several meetings about this and all criticism is waved away. They say ‘you are too negative, people don’t mind parking 30 minutes away from the stadium'” Such reactions have only added more fuel to the fire and has hardly brought the club more support to their ambitions.

The supporters have a general feeling that the club is doing too little to invest further in renovating De Kuip and looking at the attractive pictures that the new venue can create. Their focus, just like so many other clubs worldwide, hasn’t been on the football club. The fans fear that the costs of the new stadium will be reimbursed through high ticket prices levied on the attending fans. Stadion op Zuid’s research has concluded that a new stadium need not be built and that renovation on the current De Kuip is a better, more sustainable option and despite talking to the higher-ups at the club, they just can’t succeed in getting their plans across.

Financially, the club has once again sugar-coated some numbers to suit their ideas and present a pretty picture to the concerned fans. In a presentation, it was claimed that by 2023, the time that the stadium is expected to be complete, Feyenoord’s finances and budget will certainly be above that of their rivals’ PSV Eindhoven and just behind Ajax Amsterdam. It is believed by Stadion op Zuid that the information taken at the start of the investigation itself was incorrect, and that PSV and Ajax’s finances were incredibly understated and do not take into consideration the recent developments just to suit the stakeholders and fans of the club.

The new stadium will cost €444 million, with costs for the whole masterplan expected to hit €1.5 billion – money which the club does not have – and it doesn’t seem likely that there will be an injection from any mogul. This is likely to put the club in a huge debt and they will not be helped by the fans that are unwilling to support the project, thus sending the club in a downward spiral on and off the pitch. The representatives of Stadion op Zuid believe that Feyenoord needs a budget of at least €35 million to compete with their two main rivals – a number that will not be met by the club with their new stadium.

The new stadium, when complete, will be one of the most expensive in the world. Once again, this is incredibly unsustainable, and will be difficult to manage. The total cost for the stadium itself, when all factors are considered, could rise to €550 million. According to Stadion op Zuid, the stadium will be three times more expensive than Ajax’s Johan Cruyff ArenA and 1.7 times costlier than the combined cost of Ajax’s stadium and PSV Eindhoven’s Philips Stadion. And from a European perspective, the new stadium will be considerably expensive than the ones built by Juventus and Atlético Madrid – two clubs operating on a much higher budget than Feyenoord.

1.1: A LEAKED DOCUMENT SHOWING EXPECTED BUDGETS COMPARED TO RIVALS FOLLOWING THE COMPLETION OF THE FEYENOORD CITY PROJECT, MADE BY THE CLUB

1.2: A DOCUMENT SHOWING ACTUAL EXPECTED BUDGETS COMPARED TO RIVALS FOLLOWING THE COMPLETION OF THE FEYENOORD CITY PROJECT, MADE BY STADION OP ZUID

Ajax and PSV Eindhoven have already shown improved finances in recent years and already possess a higher spending budget than Feyenoord. Even then, they are still not staying still. Both clubs have seen their performances improve in recent years. The Amsterdam club are doing well in the Champions League and are looking to renovate their stadium. They also have the likes of Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt – two players that the world is watching – whilst their carousel continues to grow. Although there have been some issues lately, their model looks sustainable and they are a very well-run club.

PSV Eindhoven are also looking at a bright future. They won the league in impressive fashion last season and are looking as strong this season, having already established a fine lead at the top of the Eredivisie. Just like Ajax, they too have players whose stocks continue to grow. The likes of Hirving Lozano, Denzel Dumfries and Steven Bergwijn have impressed in recent months and will only continue to grow. Both Ajax and PSV are consistent participants in the Champions League and the finances earned from there benefit both. They are running a safe and secure model, and the way things are going, it doesn’t seem as though Feyenoord will be their title rivals for long.

The project does Feyenoord and its fans wrong in so many ways. It does not raise the club’s spending budget on new talent in a way to help improve its sporting performance, thus affecting the playing side that will have a long-term impact on the club. It does not replicate the same feeling as De Kuip, the same intrigue that has made the stadium one of the most respected and important in world football, thus disappointing the fans and their experience of this historic club. And finally, it does not make the lives of fans easier with their access to the venue – something that is greatly admired of De Kuip.

In many ways, this is what a large fanbase of football itself, not of any particular club, has been disappointed about. This stadium is the shunning of the voices of fans that have played a huge role behind the success of Feyenoord. Football is the people’s game, and it always has been, but the people are losing to the people with the money. This project in Rotterdam is unsustainable and the continuity of the club is greatly jeopardised if the plans do indeed come to fruition. The relationship between the fans and the board at Feyenoord has been rocky to say the least, and that will only continue to deteriorate.

Feyenoord’s largest local fan club, FSV De Feyenoord, who amass a massive 17,000 members is unconvinced that these plans do much good and that concern can be voiced by many, not only in Rotterdam. To put the insanity of this situation into perspective, it’s like Manchester United moving away from Old Trafford or Boca Juniors going away from La Bombonera – something unnecessary, inconsiderate and irresponsible. The fans, their voices, the lifeblood of the club have been shunned for a plan that does not yield positive results and may just lead to an irrecoverable situation for this historical giant of a football club.

De Kuip has always been a place deeply rooted in legend. At the time of its completion, it was a poetry of architecture, a sign of progress and a transition into modern times. That is what is at stake here. Beyond the financial struggle the Feyenoord City project may bring, it’ll bring the death of history that is supposed to be preserved. Bigger stadiums do not always mean better atmospheres – West Ham United supporters can explain that very well – and one of the reasons Feyenoord’s current home is so respected is the atmosphere. That, the essence of the club, is being killed off with this venue and it needs to be prevented.

Football is already losing to personal greed, but maybe there can be a miniscule victory here. For Feyenoord, for the decades of support, for their history and for the fans, there needs to be more support to stop Feyenoord City.

HUGE THANKS TO STADION OP ZUID. YOU CAN FOLLOW THEM ON TWITTER OR CHECK OUT THEIR WEBSITE.

BY KARAN TEJWANI